Dirty laundry: How many microfibers do we produce with our washing?
According to new research, microfibres released by UK laundry can weigh as much as 1,500 double-decker buses.
Researchers from the University of Leeds School of Design discovered the secret to the discovery. They created a test to determine how different materials and washing conditions affect the release of microfibres into water.
Microfibres, which are tiny threads, enter the environment when clothing is made, worn, and washed. Microfibres are invisible to the naked eye and smaller than 5mm in diameter, but they have a significant impact on water pollution.
The researchers calculated that the annual microfibre released from UK washing was between 6,860 to 17,847 tonnes as part of a project funded jointly by the European Outdoor Group (EOG), and the sustainable textiles organisation The Microfibre Consortium. This is equivalent to 600 to 1,500 double-decker buses.
Alice Hazlehurst, a postgraduate researcher, is the lead author. She stated that "Quantifying microfibre releases is an important step towards understanding the scale of this problem as well as the potential effects of this form of polluting. There are many estimates available, but they vary greatly and it's nearly impossible to make meaningful comparisons." We used a reliable test method to compare microfibre releases from different fabrics under different washing conditions in our lab." Our results allowed us to estimate the microfibre release on a realistic scale.
According to their estimates, microfibre releases are a relatively minor problem compared to the problem of fashion industry waste. Each year, 365,000 tonnes worth of clothing is sent to landfill in the UK.TMC collaborated with EOG, the University of Leeds and other stakeholders to create and release a global standard test that measures the amount of microfibres removed from fabric during domestic laundering.
Because of its reliability, the TMC Test Method was already adopted by US and EU standard bodies. This will allow clothing brands to test their garments for microfibre release and inform washing machine manufacturers about filtering. It will also help them understand the extent of the problem.
Researchers used a Gyrowash, which replicates a domestic washing machine in laboratory conditions, to create a more reliable estimate for UK microfibre releases. They tested 16 fabrics, including cotton, viscose, polyester and blended fabrics. They also compared different yarn types, as well as constructions (knitted and woven). They also measured the effects washing conditions had on clothes, such as the size of the loads and how vigorously the clothes were shaken.
When the ratio of clothing to water was increased by more than two-thirds, there was twice the amount of microfibre material released. Because less water flows through the clothes and loose material is dislodged, it can be beneficial to fill up the washing machine drum by adding more clothes. Overfilling a washer can pose a safety risk and reduce the wash quality.
After the first wash of a brand new fabric, microfibre loss was reduced significantly. However, this effect remained constant after three washes. Other estimates were based on the results from new fabrics being washed. These findings suggest that less microfibre has been released than previously thought.
Testing revealed that fabric characteristics such as yarn type, construction (knitted and woven), and fibre type had a greater impact on the release of microfibres than washing conditions. A chenille polyester fabric was the worst culprit for microfibre release, while fabrics that had been brushed and peached lost less material.
TMC research director Dr Kelly Sheridan said that the Microfibre Consortium had actively advocated for a globally aligned method that could be used by the textile sector to measure fibre fragmentation in finished fabrics." The TMC Test Method was the foundation of the development an international ISO standard. This is a testament to its reliability and accuracy. This method generates microfibre losses data that can be used to replace previous quantification estimates made using inconsistent test methods.
The European Outdoor Group and The Microfibre Consortium funded the paper. The European Outdoor Group, an industry association, represents Europe's outdoor sector. The Microfibre Consortium, a non-governmental organization that conducts research on sustainable textiles, is responsible for leading the industry's efforts to reduce microfibre emissions from garment production.